Aspasia (ca. 470 BCD. Nails, "The People of Plato", 58–59] [P. O'Grady, [ Aspasia of Miletus] ] –ca. 400 BC,A.E. Taylor, "Plato: The Man and his Work", 41] Greek: Polytonic|Ἀσπασία) was a Milesian woman who was famous for her involvement with the Athenian statesman Pericles.S. Monoson, "Plato's Democratic Entanglements", 195] Very little is known about the details of her life. She spent most of her adult life in Athens, and she may have influenced Pericles and Athenian politics. She is mentioned in the writings of Plato, Aristophanes, Xenophon, and other authors of the day.

Ancient writers also reported that Aspasia was a brothel keeper and a harlot, although these accounts are disputed by modern scholars, on the grounds that many of the writers were comic poets concerned with defaming Pericles.R.W. Wallace, [ Review of Henry's book] ] Some researchers question even the historical tradition that she was a hetaera, or courtesan, and have suggested that she may actually have been married to Pericles.Ref_label|A|α|none Aspasia had a son by Pericles, Pericles the Younger, who later became a general in the Athenian military and was executed after the Battle of Arginusae. She is believed to have become the courtesan of Lysicles, another Athenian statesman and general, following the death of Pericles the Elder.

Origin and early years

Aspasia was born in the Ionian Greek city of Miletus (in the modern province of Aydın, Turkey). Little is known about her family except that her father's name was Axiochus, although it is evident that she must have belonged to a wealthy family, for only the well-to-do could have afforded the excellent education that she received. Some ancient sources claim that she was a Carian prisoner-of-war turned slave; these statements are generally regarded as false.Ref_label|B|β|noneJ. Lendering, [ Aspasia of Miletus] ]

It is not known under what circumstances she first traveled to Athens. The discovery of a 4th-century grave inscription that mentions the names of Axiochus and Aspasius has led historian Peter K. Bicknell to attempt a reconstruction of Aspasia's family background and Athenian connections. His theory connects her to Alcibiades II of Scambonidae, who was ostracized from Athens in 460 BC and may have spent his exile in Miletus. Bicknell conjectures that, following his exile, the elder Alcibiades went to Miletus, where he married the daughter of a certain Axiochus. Alcibiades apparently returned to Athens with his new wife and her younger sister, Aspasia. Bicknell argues that the first child of this marriage was named Axiochus (uncle of the famous Alcibiades) and the second Aspasios. He also maintains that Pericles met Aspasia through his close connections with Alcibiades's household.P.J. Bicknell, "Axiochus Alkibiadou, Aspasia and Aspasios", 240–250]

Life in Athens

According to the disputed statements of the ancient writers and some modern scholars, in Athens Aspasia became a hetaera and probably ran a brothel.Ref_label|A|α|noneAristophanes, "Acharnians", [ 523-527] ] R. Just,"Women in Athenian Law and Life",144] Hetaerae were professional high-class entertainers, as well as courtesans. Besides developing physical beauty, they differed from most Athenian women in being educated (often to a high standard, as in Aspasia's case), having independence, and paying taxes.cite encyclopedia|title=Aspasia|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia Britannica|date=2002] ] They were the nearest thing perhaps to liberated women; and Aspasia, who became a vivid figure in Athenian society, was probably an obvious example.B. Arkins, [ Sexuality in Fifth-Century Athens] ] According to Plutarch, Aspasia was compared to the famous Thargelia, another renowned Ionian hetaera of ancient times.Plutarch, "Pericles", [;query=chapter%3D%23169;layout=;loc=Per.%2023.1/ XXIV] ]

Being a foreigner and possibly a hetaera, Aspasia was free of the legal restraints that traditionally confined married women to their homes, and thereby was allowed to participate in the public life of the city. She became the mistress of the statesman Pericles in the early 440s. After he divorced his first wife (c. 445 BC), Aspasia began to live with him, although her marital status remains disputed.Ref_label|C|γ|noneM. Ostwald, "Athens as a Cultural Center", 310] Their son, Pericles the Younger, must have been born by 440 BC. Aspasia would have to have been quite young, if she were able to bear a child to Lysicles c. 428 BC.P.A. Stadter, "A Commentary on Plutarch's Pericles", [ 239] ]

In social circles, Aspasia was noted for her ability as a conversationalist and adviser rather than merely an object of physical beauty. According to Plutarch, their house became an intellectual centre in Athens, attracting the most prominent writers and thinkers, including the philosopher Socrates. The biographer writes that, despite her immoral life, Athenian men would bring their wives to hear her converse.Ref_label|D|δ|noneH.G. Adams, "A Cyclopaedia of Female Biography", 75–76]

Personal and judicial attacks

Pericles, Aspasia and their friends were not immune from attack, as preeminence in democratic Athens was not equivalent to absolute rule.Fornara-Samons, "Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles", [ 31] ] Her relationship with Pericles and her subsequent political influence aroused many reactions. Donald Kagan, a Yale historian, believes that Aspasia was particularly unpopular in the years immediately following the Samian War.D. Kagan, "The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War", 197] In 440 BC, Samos was at war with Miletus over Priene, an ancient city of Ionia in the foot-hills of Mycale. Worsted in the war, the Milesians came to Athens to plead their case against the Samians.Thucydides, I, [ 115] ] When the Athenians ordered the two sides to stop fighting and submit the case to arbitration at Athens, the Samians refused. In response, Pericles passed a decree dispatching an expedition to Samos.Plutarch, "Pericles", [;query=chapter%3D%23170;layout=;loc=Per.%2024.1/ XXV] ] The campaign proved to be difficult and the Athenians had to endure heavy casualties before Samos was defeated. According to Plutarch, it was thought that Aspasia, who came from Miletus, was responsible for the Samian War, and that Pericles had decided against and attacked Samos to gratify her.On the basis of such assessments, researchers such as Cheryl Glenn, Professor at the Pennsylvania State University, argue that Aspasia seems to have been the only woman in classical Greece to have distinguished herself in the public sphere and must have influenced Pericles in the composition of his speeches.C. Glenn, "Remapping Rhetorical Territory ", 180–199] Some scholars believe that Aspasia opened an academy for young women of good families or even invented the Socratic method.Jarratt-Onq, "Aspasia: Rhetoric, Gender, and Colonial Ideology", 9–24] C. Glenn, "Locating Aspasia on the Rhetorical Map", 23] However, Robert W. Wallace, Professor of classics at Northwestern University, underscores that "we cannot accept as historical the joke that Aspasia taught Pericles how to speak and hence was a master rhetorician or philosopher". According to Wallace, the intellectual role Aspasia was given by Plato may have derived from comedy. Kagan describes Aspasia as "a beautiful, independent, brilliantly witty young woman capable of holding her own in conversation with the best minds in Greece and of discussing and illuminating any kind of question with her husband".D.Kagan, "Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy", 182] Roger Just, a classicist and Professor of social anthropology at the University of Kent, believes that Aspasia was an exceptional figure, but her example alone is enough to underline the fact that any woman who was to become the intellectual and social equal of a man would have to be a hetaira. According to Sr. Prudence Allen, a philosopher and seminary professor, Aspasia moved the potential of women to become philosophers one step forward from the poetic inspirations of Sappho.

Historicity of her life

The main problem remains, as Jona Lendering [ points out] , that most of the things we know about Aspasia are based on mere hypothesis. Thucydides does not mention her; our only sources are the untrustworthy representations and speculations recorded by men in literature and philosophy, who did not care at all about Aspasia as a historical character. Therefore, in the figure of Aspasia, we get a range of contradictory portrayals; she is either a good wife like Theano or some combination of courtesan and prostitute like Thargelia.J.E. Taylor, "Jewish Women Philosophers of First-Century Alexandria", 187] This is the reason modern scholars express their scepticism about the historicity of Aspasia's life.

According to Wallace, "for us Aspasia herself possesses and can possess almost no historical reality". Hence, Madeleine M. Henry, Professor of Classics at Iowa State University, maintains that "biographical anecdotes that arose in antiquity about Aspasia are wildly colorful, almost completely unverifiable, and still alive and well in the twentieth century". She finally concludes that "it is possible to map only the barest possibilities for [Aspasia's] life".M. Henry, "Prisoner of History", 3, 10, 127–128] According to Charles W. Fornara and Loren J. Samons II, Professors of Classics and history, "it may well be, for all we know, that the real Aspasia was more than a match for her fictional counterpart".

ee also

*Ancient philosophy
*Prostitution in Ancient Greece
*Timeline of Ancient Greece


α. Note_label|A|α|none Henry regards as a slander the reports of ancient writers and comic poets that Aspasia was a brothel keeper and a harlot. Henry believes that these comic sallies were to ridicule Athens' leadership and were based on the fact that, by his own citizenship law, Pericles was prevented from marrying Aspasia and so had to live with her in an unmarried state.M. Henry, "Prisoner of History", 138–139] For these reasons historian Nicole Loraux questions even the testimony of ancient writers that Aspasia was a hetaera or a courtesan.N. Loraux, "Aspasie, l'étrangère, l'intellectuelle", 133–164] Fornara and Samons also dιsmiss the 5th-century tradition that Aspasia was a harlot and managed houses of ill-repute.

β. Note_label|B|β|none According to Debra Nails, Professor of philosophy at Michigan State University, if Aspasia was not a free woman, the decree to legitimize her son with Pericles and the later marriage to Lysicles (Nails assumes that Aspasia and Lysicles were married) would almost certainly have been impossible.

γ. Note_label|C|γ|none Fornara and Samons take the position that Pericles married Aspasia, but his citizenship law declared her to be an invalid mate. Wallace argues that, in marrying Aspasia, if he married her, Pericles was continuing a distinguished Athenian aristocratic tradition of marrying well-connected foreigners. Henry believes that Pericles was prevented by his own citizenship law from marrying Aspasia and so had to live with her in an unmarried state. On the basis of a comic passage Henry maintains that Aspasia was probably a "pallake", namely a concubine.M. Henry, "Prisoner of History", 21] According to historian William Smith, Aspasia's relation with Pericles was "analogous to the left-handed marriages of modern princes". [W. Smith, "A History of Greece", 261] Historian Arnold W. Gomme underscores that "his contemporaries spoke of Pericles as married to Aspasia".A. W. Gomme, "Essays in Greek History & Literature", 104]

δ. Note_label|D|δ|none According to Kahn, stories such as Socrates' visits to Aspasia, along with his friends' wives and Lysicles' connection with Aspasia, are not likely to be historical. He believes that Aeschines was indifferent to the historicity of his Athenian stories and that these stories must have been invented at a time when the date of Lysicles' death had been forgotten, but his occupation still remembered.

ε. Note_label|E|ε|none Kagan estimates that, if the trial of Aspasia happened, "we have better reason to believe that it happened in 438 than at any other time".

στ. Note_label|F|στ|none According to James F. McGlew, Professor at Iowa State University, it is not very likely that the charge against Aspasia was made by Hermippus. He believes that "Plutarch or his sources have confused the law courts and theater".J.F. McGlew, "Citizens on Stage", 53]

ζ. Note_label|G|ζ|none Athenaeus quotes Antisthenes saying that Pericles pleaded for her against charges of impiety, weeping "more tears than when his life and property were endangered".Athenaeus, "Deipnosophistae", XIII, 589]

η. Note_label|H|η|none Omphale and Deianira were respectively the Lydian queen who owned Heracles as a slave for a year and his long-suffering wife. Athenian dramatists took an interest in Omphale from the middle of the 5th century. The comedians parodied Pericles for resembling a Heracles under the control of an Omphale-like Aspasia.P.A. Stadter, " A Commentary on Plutarch's Pericles", [ 240] ] Aspasia was called "Omphale" in the "Kheirones" of Cratinus or the "Philoi" of Eupolis.

θ. Note_label|I|θ|none Αs wife of the "Olympian" Pericles. Ancient Greek writers call Pericles "Olympian", because he was "thundering and lightening and exciting Greece" and carrying the weapons of Zeus when orating.Aristophanes, "Acharnians", [;query=card%3D%2326;layout=;loc=541/ 528–531] and Diodorus, XII, [;query=chapter%3D%23208;layout=;loc=12.41.1/ 40] ]

ι. Note_label|K|ι|none Cratinus (in "Dionysalexandros") assimilates Pericles and Aspasia to the "outlaw" figures of Paris and Helen; just as Paris caused a war with Spartan Menelaus over his desire for Helen, so Pericles, influenced by the foreign Aspasia, involved Athens in a war with Sparta.M. Padilla, [ Labor's Love Lost: Ponos and Eros in the Trachiniae] ] Eupolis also called Aspasia Helen in the "Prospaltoi".



Primary sources (Greeks and Romans)
* Aristophanes, "Acharnians". See original text in [ Perseus program]
* Athenaeus, "Deipnosophistae". Translated by the [ University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center]
* Cicero, "De Inventione", I. See original text in the [ Latin Library] .
* Diodorus Siculus, "Library", XII. See original text in [ Perseus program] .
* Lucian, "A Portrait Study". Translated in [ sacred-texts]
* Plato, "Menexenus". See original text in [ Perseus program] .
* Plutarch, "Pericles". See original text in [ Perseus program] .
* Thucydides, "The Peloponnesian War", I and III. See original text in [ Perseus program]
* Xenophon, "Memorabilia". See original text in [ Perseus program]
* Xenophon, "Oeconomicus". Translated by [ H.G. Dakyns] .

Secondary sources

*cite book|last=Adams|first=Henry Gardiner|title=A Cyclopaedia of Female Biography|year=1857|publisher=Groombridge
*cite book|last=Allen|first=Prudence|title=The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution, 750 B.C. - A.D. 1250|year=1997|publisher=Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing|id=ISBN 0-8028-4270-4|chapter=The Pluralists: Aspasia
*cite journal|last=Arkins|first=Brian|title=Sexuality in Fifth-Century Athens|journal="Classics Ireland"|volume=1|date=1994|accessdate=2006-08-29|url=
*cite encyclopedia|title=Aspasia|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia Britannica|date=2002
*cite journal|last=Bicknell|first=Peter J.|title=Axiochus Alkibiadou, Aspasia and Aspasios|journal="L'Antiquité Classique"|year=1982|volume=51|issue=No.3|pages=240–250
*cite book|last=Bolansée, Schepens, Theys, Engels|title=Die Fragmente Der Griechischen Historiker: A. Biography|year=1989|publisher=Brill Academic Publishers|id=ISBN 90-04-11094-1|chapter=Antisthenes of Athens
*cite book | first=Brose | last = Margaret| title=A Companion to European Romanticism edited by Michael Ferber| publisher=Blackwell Publishing | year=2005| id=ISBN 1-4051-1039-2|chapter=Ugo Foscolo and Giacomo Leopardi
*cite book|last=Duyckinck, G.L. |first=Duyckinc, E.A. |title=Cyclopedia of American Literature|year=1856|publisherC. Scribner
*cite book | first=Loren J. Samons II | last = Fornara Charles W.| title=Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles | publisher=Berkeley: University of California Press | year=1991
*cite book | first=Cheryl| last = Glenn| title=Listening to Their Voices | publisher=Univ of South Carolina Press | year=1997| id=ISBN 1-57003-172-X|chapter=Locating Aspasia on the Rhetorical Map
*cite journal|last=Glenn|first=Cheryl|title=Sex, Lies, and Manuscript: Refiguring Aspasia in the History of Rhetoric|journal="Composition and Communication"|year=1994|volume=45|issue=No.4|pages=180–199
*cite book | first=Arnold W. | last = Gomme|authorlink = Arnold Wycombe Gomme| title=Essays in Greek History & Literature| publisher=Ayer Publishing | year=1977| id=ISBN 0-8369-0481-8|chapter=The Position of Women in Athens in the Fifth and Fourth Centurie BC
*cite book | first=D.D. | last = Anderson| title=Dictionary of Midwestern Literature: Volume One: The Authors by Philip A Greasley| publisher=Indiana University Press | year=2001| id=ISBN 0-253-33609-0|chapter=The Origins and Development of the Literature of the Midwest
*cite book | first=Onq, Rory | last= Jarratt, Susan| title=Reclaiming Rhetorica edited by Andrea A. Lunsford| publisher=Berkeley: Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press | year=1995| id=ISBN 0-7661-9484-1|chapter=Aspasia: Rhetoric, Gender, and Colonial Ideology
*cite book | first=Raymond | last= MacDonald Alden| title=Readings in English Prose of the Nineteenth Century| publisher=Kessinger Publishing | year=2005| id=ISBN 0-8229-5553-9|chapter=Walter Savage Landor
*cite book | first=Madeleine M. | last=Henri| title=Prisoner of History. Aspasia of Miletus and her Biographical Tradition | publisher=Oxford University Press | year=1995 | id=ISBN 0-19-508712-7
*cite book | first=Donald | last=Kagan| title=Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy | publisher=The Free Press | year=1991 | id=ISBN 0-684-86395-2
*cite book|last=Kagan|first=Donald|title=The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War|year=1989|publisher=Ithaca: Cornell University Press|id=ISBN 0-8014-9556-3|chapter=Athenian Politics on the Eve of the War
*cite book|last=Kahn|first=Charles H.|title=Plato and the Socratic Dialogue|year=1997|publisher=Cambridge University Press|id=ISBN 0-521-64830-0|chapter=Antisthenes
*cite book|last=Kahn|first=Charles H.|title=The Socratic Movement edited by Paul A. Vander Waerdt|year=1994|publisher=Cornell University Press|id=ISBN 0-8014-9903-8|chapter=Aeschines on Socratic Eros
*cite book | first=Roger | last=Just | title=Women in Athenian Law and Life | publisher=Routledge (UK) | year=1991 | id=ISBN 0-415-05841-4|chapter=Personal Relationships
*cite book | first=Nicole | last=Loraux | title=La Grèce au Féminin (in French) | publisher= Belles Lettres | year=2003 | id=ISBN 2-251-38048-5|chapter=Aspasie, l'étrangère, l'intellectuelle
*cite book | first=Laura | last=McClure | title=Spoken Like a Woman: Speech and Gender in Athenian Drama | publisher=Princeton University Press | year=1999 | id=ISBN 0-691-01730-1|chapter=The City of Words: Speech in the Athenian Polis
*cite book | first=James F. | last=McGlew | title=Citizens on Stage: Comedy and Political Culture in the Athenian Democracy | publisher=University of Michigan Press | year=2002 | id=ISBN 0-472-11285-6|chapter=Exposing Hypocrisie: Pericles and Cratinus' Dionysalexandros
*cite book|last=Monoson|first=Sara|title=Plato's Democratic Entanglements|publisher=Hackett Publishing|date=2002|id=ISBN 0-691-04366-3|chapter=Plato's Opposition to the Veneration of Pericles
*cite book|last=Nails|first=Debra|title=The People of Plato: A Prosopography of Plato and Other Socratics|publisher=Princeton University Press|date=2000|id=ISBN 0-87220-564-9
*cite book|last=Ostwald|first=M.|title=The Cambridge Ancient History edited by David M. Lewis, John Boardman, J. K. Davies, M. Ostwald (Volume V)|year=1992|publisher=Cambridge University Press|id=ISBN 0-521-23347-X|chapter=Athens as a Cultural Center
* Paparrigopoulos, Konstantinos (-Karolidis, Pavlos)(1925), "History of the Hellenic Nation (Volume Ab)". Eleftheroudakis (in Greek).
*cite book | first= A.J. | last=Podlecki | title=Perikles and His Circle | publisher=Routledge (UK)| year=1997 | id=ISBN 0-415-06794-4
*cite book|title=The Greek World|last=Powell|first=Anton|publisher=Routledge (UK)|date=1995|id=ISBN 0-415-06031-1|chapter=Athens' Pretty Face: Anti-feminine Rhetoric and Fifth-century Controversy over the Parthenon
*cite book|title=The Staff of Oedipus|last=Rose|first=Martha L.|publisher=University of Michigan Press|date=2003|id=ISBN 0-472-11339-9|chapter=Demosthenes' Stutter: Overcoming Impairment
*cite book|title=Politics and Persuasion in Aristophanes' Ecclesiazusae|last=Rothwell|first=Kenneth Sprague|publisher=Brill Academic Publishers|date=1990|id=ISBN 90-04-09185-8|chapter=Critical Problems in the Ecclesiazusae
*cite book|title=A History of Greece|last=Smith|first=William|publisher=R. B. Collins|date=1855|chapter=Death and Character of Pericles
*cite book|last=Southall|first=Aidan|title=The City in Time and Space|publisher=Cambridge University Press|date=1999|id=ISBN 0-521-78432-8|chapter=Greece and Rome
*cite book|last=Stadter|first=Philip A.|title= A Commentary on Plutarch's Pericles|publisher=University of North Carolina Press|date=1989|id=ISBN 0-8078-1861-5
*cite book |last=Sykoutris|first=Ioannis|title=Symposium (Introduction and Comments) -in Greek | publisher=Estia | year=1934
*cite book|last=Taylor|first=A. E.|title=Plato: The Man and His Work|publisher= Courier Dover Publications|date=2001|id=ISBN 0-486-41605-4|chapter=Minor Socratic Dialogues: Hippias Major, Hippias Minor, Ion, Menexenus
*cite book|last=Taylor|first=Joan E.|title=Jewish Women Philosophers of First-Century Alexandria|publisher=Oxford University Press|date=2004|id=ISBN 0-19-925961-5|chapter=Greece and Rome
*cite book|last=Tritle|first=Lawrence A.|title=The Peloponnesian War|publisher=Greenwood Press|date=2004|id=ISBN 0-313-32499-9|chapter=Annotated Bibliography
*cite journal|last=Wider|first=Kathleen|title=Women philosophers in the Ancient Greek World: Donning the Mantle|journal="Hypatia"|year=1986|volume=1|issue=No.1|pages=21–62

Further reading

*cite book|last=Atherton|first=Gertrude|title=The Immortal Marriage|publisher=Kessinger Publishing|date=2004|id=ISBN 1-4179-1559-5
*cite book|last= Becq de Fouquières|first=Louis|title=Aspasie de Milet (in French)|publisher=Didier|date=1872
*cite book|last= Hamerling|first=Louis|title=Aspasia: a Romance of Art and Love in Ancient Hellas|publisher=Geo. Gottsberger Peck|date=1893
*cite book|last=Savage Landor|first=Walter|title=Pericles And Aspasia|publisher=Kessinger Publishing|date=2004|id=ISBN 0-7661-8958-9

External links

* cite web
title = Aspasia of Athens
work = Brainard, Jennifer
url =
accessmonthday = August 14
accessyear = 2007

* cite web
title = Aspasia
work = Britannica, 11th Edition
url =
accessmonthday = September 13
accessyear = 2006

* cite web
title = Aspasia
work = Encyclopædia Romana
url =
accessmonthday = September 10
accessyear = 2006

* cite web
title = Aspasia of Miletus - Prisoner of History, by Madeleine Henry
work = Gill, N.S.
url =
accessmonthday = September 10
accessyear = 2006

* cite web
title = Aspasia of Miletus
work = Lendering, Jona
url =
accessmonthday = September 10
accessyear = 2006

* cite web
title = Aspasia of Miletus
work = O'Grady, Patricia
url =
accessmonthday = September 10
accessyear = 2006

* cite web
title = Aspasia, from PBS's "The Greeks"
work = The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization on PBS
url =
accessmonthday = November 1
accessyear = 2006
*cite web
title = Aspasia:International Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women's and Gender History
work = "Aspasia is an international peer-reviewed yearbook that brings out the best scholarship in the field of interdisciplinary women's and gender history focused on – and produced in – Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe." - quoted from the journal website
url =
accessmonthday = October 1
accessyear = 2008

* cite web
title = Aspasia in Greek Comedy
work = Gill, N.S.
url =
accessmonthday = September 10
accessyear = 2006

* cite web
title = Aspasia, the Ancient Philosopher and Teacher of Athens
work = Gill, N.S.
url =
accessmonthday = September 10
accessyear = 2006

* cite web
title = Thoughts on Aspasia and Diotima
work = Ratliff, Clancy
url =
accessmonthday = September 10
accessyear = 2006

NAME = Aspasia
SHORT DESCRIPTION = Milesian woman, involved with Athenian statesman Pericles
PLACE OF DEATH = Probably Athens

[] =

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